Group of employees sitting in a meeting.
From appointing a meeting facilitator to ending with an action plan, there are many steps and pointers to consider when looking to improve meeting productivity. — Getty Images/Luis Alvarez

Counterintuitively, meetings can put a significant strain on your company’s productivity — and even on your balance sheet. According to Steven Rogelberg, the author of “The Surprising Science of Meetings,” too many meetings are draining the resources of organizations of all sizes. By Rogelberg’s estimate, employees in the U.S. attend a staggering 55 million meetings a day. Unfortunately, few of these meetings yield a measurable financial return.

Applying some of these best practices can make your in-person meetings more impactful and productive. Try some of these tactics to ensure your next meeting is valuable for all attendees and move the needle toward a desired business result.

Define the meeting objective

What is the point of having this meeting? By answering the question, you’re accomplishing two things. First, you’re defining the objective or ideal outcome of the meeting. Second, you’re verifying that this meeting truly needs to take place.

One way to determine the objective of the meeting is to write a clear set of questions that need to be answered by the end of the session. “Once the questions have been answered, you know when to end the meeting — and you can easily gauge if the meeting has been successful,” wrote MIT Sloan.

Appoint an active facilitator

A great meeting needs someone to keep business moving, whether it’s the person who scheduled the meeting or a different leader in the room. This person is responsible for creating the meeting agenda, prepping attendees with relevant background information before the meeting, and keeping the conversation focused and moving during the session.

It can also be helpful to appoint a separate person to take notes during the meeting. This enables the facilitator to participate and keep an eye on the clock, while still capturing the discussion for those not in attendance.

Keep the guest list small

The phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” holds true for the conference room, too. Ideally, you should restrict the list of attendees to only those who need to be there to accomplish the meeting objective.

“The value and success of a committee meeting are seriously threatened if too many people are present,” wrote Harvard Business Review. “Between 4 and 7 is generally ideal, 10 is tolerable, and 12 is the outside limit.”

Of course, there’s no magic number for how many people it takes to derail a conversation. But keep in mind that not everyone will have something to contribute, and you can consider making the meeting optional for those not directly involved.

The phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” holds true for the conference room, too. Ideally, you should restrict the list of attendees to only those who need to be there to accomplish the meeting objective.

Create a device policy

Let participants know ahead of time whether they should bring their laptops or expect to be device-less for the duration of the discussion. On one hand, it can be helpful to have everyone working on the same document in one room. On the other hand, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones present a world of distractions. If you need people to stay focused, ask them to leave their tech at the door.

[Read more: 3 Expert Strategies for Productive Meetings]

Be as inclusive as possible

Without putting someone on the spot, try to make sure each meeting participant has space to make their ideas heard. The meeting facilitator should have carte blanche to pause conversations and support someone who hasn’t had a chance to speak.

“Your job as a leader is to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the beginning of the meeting,” David M. Cote, the former chief executive of Honeywell, told the New York Times. “It’s your job to flush out all the facts, all the opinions, and at the end make a good decision, because you’ll get measured on whether you made a good decision, and not whether it was your idea from the beginning.”

If there’s someone in the room who may be more introverted, set up a mechanism that allows for input to continue to be shared after the meeting has concluded.

End with an action plan

Spend the last few minutes of each meeting determining how to keep the momentum from the meeting going. “This discussion should include deciding who is responsible for what, and what the deadlines are. Otherwise, all the time you spent on the meeting will be for naught,” wrote the New York Times.

Assign responsibilities and deadlines while you have everyone in the room to increase accountability, and send around an annotated agenda that summarizes the key points to keep everyone on track.

[Read more: 7 Best Practices for Hybrid Staff Meetings]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published October 19, 2022